AMERICAN THEATRE | I’ve Received a Lovely Feeling Concerning the Way forward for Hammerstein’s Farm

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The barn at Highland Farm. (Picture by Grace Alfiero)

I began working at Rodgers and Hammerstein in Could, 1981, nearly a 12 months and a half after Richard Rodgers handed away. My bosses have been Rodgers’s widow Dorothy and Invoice Hammerstein, the oldest baby of Oscar. I knew Mary Rodgers and had met Dorothy however knew not one of the Hammersteins. After I met Invoice I discovered him to be avuncular, clever, contemplative, and cautious. He had been round lengthy sufficient to know the ins and outs of the connection between his father and Rodgers—sophisticated, sure, but in addition terribly fertile and constant.

Someday after I had been in cost for a number of years I acquired a cellphone name. The home that Oscar Hammerstein II had owned in Doylestown, Pa., Highland Farm, was available on the market, and for a value that appeared modest—round $250,000. I knew that after Oscar died, his spouse Dorothy—coincidence that each males had wives named Dorothy?—had offered the home. Invoice and I had by no means had a dialog in regards to the place and what it meant to the household. Possibly somebody would really feel nostalgic sufficient to purchase it again? I put in a name to Invoice.

“Do you might have Hugh Fordin’s biography of my father close by?” he requested. I pulled it from the bookshelf.  “Take a look at the aerial picture of the home.  Do you see the tennis courtroom, beneath the round driveway?” Sure, I mentioned, it’s fairly clear. “Properly, there’s a main freeway working proper by way of the place the tennis courtroom was once.  That’s the reason the value is what it’s.”

I used to be crushed. What a disgrace, I assumed. And that was the top of that.

Oscar Hammerstein at his writing desk.

Then a number of years later I acquired one other name out of the blue. This one was from Christine Cole, the brand new proprietor of Highland Farm, who was working the home as a mattress & breakfast. She invited me down. My curiosity was piqued. I had by no means been to the home, didn’t actually know the place it was, however as president of Rodgers & Hammerstein I used to be all the time up for brand new discoveries that had a connection to the work I used to be now charged to handle.

The driveway to the home was so modest that on first move, I missed it solely. Backtracking over the double freeway, I did discover it, and drove in. There was the round driveway, and the home. A bit of historical past on the hoof, the place during which so a lot of Oscar Hammerstein’s iconic lyrics and librettos had been written. Wow, I assumed.

Christine was a gracious host. We walked the property. Regardless of the lack of the tennis courtroom, the remainder of the property nonetheless felt like a farmhouse, even the in-ground swimming pool—the primary in Bucks County—that Oscar had been very pleased with. She had assigned me what had been Oscar and Dorothy’s bed room. Throughout the corridor was the room that had been Oscar’s examine, the place, standing at his desk, he had executed his writing. The walkway across the porch roof was nonetheless intact. On the one hand I used to be in a beautiful outdated Pennsylvania farmhouse with, amusingly, the identical balusters on the staircase as my 1865 Carpenter Gothic home in Connecticut; then again, it was a spot of extraordinary spirit during which so many artistically inspirational occasions happened.

Christine was not simply decided that the home stay standing—a mattress & breakfast with just a few bedrooms is a tough monetary endeavor. Instinctively she felt that the historic worth of the place must be acknowledged and solidified. How may that occur, she puzzled?

In pretty brief order, Will Hammerstein, one in all Oscar’s 4 grandsons, grew to become dedicated to a future for Highland Farm. He dreamed massive: He wished to show the barn right into a theatre that may current productions of Oscar’s exhibits, flip the home right into a examine heart, put the place on a visual inventive map.  Some fund-raising occasions happened at which Will’s ardour was clearly evident.

After some time, it didn’t appear to be the dream would come true. Among the property surrounding the home was being eyed by a developer. Among the sensible points of making a public place in what had been a non-public house grew to become extra evident. Issues, issues…

However there was an concept, and it wasn’t going to go away. Fortunately for everybody, some sensible native Pennsylvanians stepped in and noticed not solely the chances, however the significance of saving this piece of American cultural historical past. Why not flip the place right into a theatre museum and training heart?

That’s now the plan: The Oscar Hammerstein Museum and Theatre Schooling Heart is a 501(c)3 nonprofit group with the mission to honor Oscar Hammerstein II’s work as a librettist and lyricist, and his legacy of mentorship and social activism. The imaginative and prescient is to buy, restore, and protect the Hammerstein house and barn at Highland Farm in Doylestown, Pa., and create a museum and theatre training heart on this historic web site. With the objective of making a multifaceted and dynamic museum expertise, with a powerful theatre training part, serving as a spot of inspiration for Broadway followers and humanitarians alike, OHMTEC has raised practically $1 million towards the acquisition of Highland Farm. A further $1 million is required to finish the primary part of the mission, in order that the house may be opened to the general public as a museum. Donations of any quantity are welcome and may be made by verify, bank card or appreciated securities. Info may be discovered at hammersteinmuseum.org.

There are a number of pictures in that Hugh Fordin e-book exhibiting Hammerstein males sitting in rocking chairs on the porch of Highland Farm. The chairs are fairly particular—giant scale with round arms. After Invoice Hammerstein died, his spouse, Jane-Howard, gave me two of these rocking chairs. Though I saved them proudly on my porch in Connecticut, as soon as I bought the sensation Highland Farm would have a future, I felt I ought to deliver at the very least one in all them again. (I nonetheless have the opposite one…maybe I’ll discover the correct time to deliver it again as effectively!) These chairs are tangible reminders of the individuals who as soon as sat in them, whose conversations led to among the most extraordinary works within the American theatre.

Ted Chapin was president of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Group for greater than 30 years.

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